Growers get to work with early bloom

Dan Wheat/Capital Press John Tontz, owner of Tontz Orchards at Baker Flats north of East Wenatchee, Wash., looks at bloom of Perfection apricots on March 23, 2010. Tontz sells apricots through a warehouse but trucks peaches to fruit stands in Washington, Oregon and Idaho in July and August.

Pests may get jump on growing season, orchardists worry

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- A warmer-than-normal winter is bringing early bloom, early pest activity and a longer frost season to tree fruit growers in central Washington.

There has been light and partial frost damage on cherry buds across the region but nothing major, says Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist in Wenatchee.

A big concern is potential emergence of the Asian spotted-winged Drosophila, or Drosophila suzukii, in the region in early May and WSU will be telling growers soon how to watch for it and what to do about it, Smith says.

D. suzukii attacks ripening fruit, spread last year into western Oregon and Washington from California but may not like the cold and hot climates of the east sides of the coastal states, scientists say.

Bloom is 10 to 14 days ahead of normal throughout the central Washington with areas south of Yakima about 10 to 14 days ahead of Wenatchee, Smith says.

"The good news is bloom isn't as compacted across the state as it was last year. It's spread out, and that's good," he says.

Compressed harvest of a record cherry crop last year devastated grower returns.

The first trees to bloom, apricot, were finished south of Yakima by March 25 and were in full bloom in Wenatchee. Peaches, nectarines and plum all closely follow apricots in a group. Then comes cherries, then pears and apples.

Mike Bush, WSU Extension fruit specialist in Yakima, said apples would be blooming in the south about April 1 and first spraying for codling moth would begin.

Smith said full bloom of Red Delicious at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee should occur about April 14. That's early but not the earliest, which was April 11, 1934.

Bloom is important in the timing of pre-bloom sprays of mineral oil for mite and scale and in post-bloom pesticides. Bush said some aphids and pear psylla were active by March 25. He said growers usually do several sprays for each of the two to three generations of codling moth in a season. Codling moth is a major apple pest and also affects pears.

Kirk Mayer, manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee, said the early spring means growers have to spend more on pesticide applications and on running wind machines and heaters to ward off frost damage.

Charles Lyall, a Mattawa grower, said a March 8 and 9 freeze cost him about 15 percent of his Chelan cherry crop. He said he was surprised because he thought the trees were still winter hardy. He said he ran wind machines and irrigation water but not early enough.

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